Honoring Our Military Canines

June 21st, 2016

10 Things You May Not Know About Military Dogs

10 Things You May Not Know About Military DogsPin

1. Dogs have been in combat with US soldiers during every major conflict, but they were not officially recognized until WWII.

sgt stubby

PinSergeant Stubby of the 102nd Infantry, Yankee Division went from mascot to hero during WWI after being smuggled into battle by Private J. Robert Conway. Stubby went on to detect enemy gas, bark out warnings when rival troops were near and locate the wounded on the battlefield. By the start of WWII, the military had recognized the value canine soldiers could bring and began using them primarily for recon. Stubby forged the way for all canine soldiers who followed and remains a symbol of military bravery and heroism to this day.

Check out Stubby’s full story at fallendogs.com

2. They are trained in bomb, weapon and drug detection, tracking, and to attack the enemy.

bomb dog

PinLackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, TX has been training sentry dogs since 1958. K9history.com details the manpower and dogpower that goes into training the amazing pups of the Department of Defense Military Working Dogs Training School (DoD MWD) at Lackland. Today, more than 1,000 dogs are trained at any given time by a staff of 125 from all branches of military service. The complex training techniques are designed to utilize the dogs’ natural gifts for focus and aggression to their advantage. German Shepherds and Labradors can detect weapons, bombs, gases and drugs more accurately than any available military equipment.

3. There are about 2500 dogs in active service today and about 700 deployed overseas.

Soldier-nose-to-nose

PinMilitary dogs play an integral role in the current overseas conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Dr. Stewart Hilliard, Chief of Military War Dog evaluation and training at Lackland Air Force Base told San Antonio Magazine in 2013, “These dogs are among our most effective counter measures against terrorists and explosives.”

4. 85% of military working dogs are purchased from Germany and the Netherlands.

A Belarussian military instructor trains a labrador puppy at a frontier guards' cynology centre near the town of Smorgon

PinThe 2013 article “Canines in Combat” from San Antonio Magazine notes that the bloodlines of these dogs go back hundreds of years, making these pups literally “born for the job.” The Air Force Security Center, Army Veterinary Corps, and the 341st Training Squadron are combining their efforts here in the States to breed suitable dogs for military service. Currently the other 15% of working dogs are USA born and bred, and the military hopes to increase this number.

5. They are extremely valuable, and not just for their service.

Untitled

PinAccording to retired Air Force K9 Handler, Louis Robinson, a fully trained bomb detection dog is likely worth over $150,000. But really, these animals are priceless. With an average of 98% accuracy in their detection skills, the peace of mind they provide to the troops is immeasurable. Robinson resides in Phoenix, AZ and runs Robinson Dog Training. He’s using the extensive skills he learned as a Military Police K9 handler to help civilian dogs learn basic obedience,  search and rescue, therapy skills and advanced protection training.

6. Only about 50% make it through training.

Total Force MWD training

PinMilitary working dogs are not just chosen for their breeding or the keenness of their sense of smell, they must possess several other qualities. They must be free of physical issues like hip dysplasia and be highly reward motivated. Trainers at Lackland use mostly toys like Kongs that can be hidden to represent bombs, but treats are also utilized. Suitable dogs for military service must also be able to attack on command. Pups have actually been dropped from the program due to extreme stress at having to bite a human. Military dogs must have just the right level of aggression and excitability.

7. They aren’t all German Shepherds.

belgian malinois

PinWhen we think about military dogs, muscular German Shepherds tend to come to mind. But several different breeds have shown patriotic heroism over the years. Many branches use the highly trainable Labrador Retriever. The elite US Navy SEALS use the Belgian Malinois, a breed similar to the German Shepherd, but smaller. These dogs are incredibly compact and fast with a sense of smell 40 times greater than that of a human. Their small stature make them ideal for parachuting and repelling missions with their handlers. The SEALS were accompanied by a Belgian Malinois named Cairo during their raid on Osama Bin Laden in 2013.

8. They can get PTSD.

PTSD

PinJust like their human brothers and sisters in arms, pup soldiers are susceptible to the horrors of PTSD. War dogs experience severe emotional trauma during deployment, and for some it becomes too much. Gunner, a Marine bomb sniffing dog became so skittish and unpredictable during active duty that he was declared “surplus” by the military and released from service. Gunner was adopted by the family of Corporal Jason Dunham who was killed near the Syrian border in 2004. He and the Dunhams are working on healing together.

9. They mourn the loss of their handler and vice versa.

lost handler

PinIn Rebecca Frankel’s book, War Dogs she explores the remarkable bond that develops between service dog and handler. One such pair was Marine Lance Corporal Joshua Ashley and “Sirius”. They were the number one team during training at Yuma military base, but tragically Josh was killed by an IED just two months after deploying to Afghanistan. “Sirius” at first refused to take commands from his new handler and showed significant signs of agitation at the loss of his partner. Such stories are all too common among canine and handler teams.

dog bowls

PinIf a dog of war is lost in combat, he or she is honored by the entire squad. Feeding dishes are symbolically placed upside down and a poem called Guardians of the Night is read in their honor.

10. Until November 2000, military dogs were euthanized or abandoned after retirement.

2013 North Dakota Peace Officer Association K-9 Police Trials

PinBefore this time service dogs were considered “military surplus equipment” and deemed unfit to adjust to civilian life. These heroes were thrown away or put down instead of honored. President Clinton passed “Robby’s Law” in 2000 which allows handlers and their families first dibs at adopting military animals at the end of their useful service. The dogs are next offered to law enforcement, then adoptive families. Organizations like Saveavet.org place these retired heroes with suitable families and ensure they are given the honorable discharge they deserve. There are currently long waiting lists of civilians who want to give these veterans a loving home in which to retire.

Featured image via Kevin Hanrahan and H/t via navyseals.compbs.org, and The Wall

THE DOGS OF WAR

February 25th, 2013

“He is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog.  You are his life, his love, his leader.  He will be yours, faithful and true, to the last beat of his heart.  You owe it to him to be worthy of such devotion.” – Unknown

 The other night my family and I were watching Animal Planet.  We happened upon a program that captivated us.  It was called “Glory Hounds.”  The program was about working military dogs and showed several of them in their working environment and actual combat situations, performing their duties in Afghanistan.  A camera crew was hired and trained and followed the dogs and their handlers for 6 weeks to gain the footage for this story.

As we all sat in the comfort and safety of our home watching these canines and their young handlers risk their lives and endure the harsh living conditions I was humbled, inspired, amazed, and touched by the bravery and dedication of these military teams.

The relationship between the young soldiers and their canine partners was extraordinary.  It was touching to see how important the dogs and humans are to one another – not only in combat situations, where they each put their lives into the others’ hands, but off the battlefield as well – to witness the comfort, companionship, and little bit of “normalcy” these dogs brought to their handlers’ lives in an otherwise unpleasant world.

The teams are frequently under fire whether in their compound or out patroling other areas.  The dogs are trained for many differents tasks but mostly to sniff out explosive devices and alert the handlers before the devices can be detonated.  Some dogs search for Taliban insurgents and alert soldiers when the enemy is present.  The amount of time and training that goes into these dogs is enormous and the trust the handlers put in them is hard to imagine.

I hope the program airs again.  If so, I highly recommend watching it.  I have not found where it is available on DVD yet, but it may be available for viewing online.

You can get more information on this program by looking up “Glory Hounds Animal Planet” on the internet or using this link http://press.discovery.com/ekits/glory-hounds/press-release.html

Watching the program got my pet parent interested in ways to help these military canines and their handlers.  She looked up several websites designed for just that purpose.  While we do not know much about the sites, I encourage you to visit them.  One is based right here in the Houston area.  Although there are many, the sites we found and researched are:

www.give2thetroops.org  or www.give2thetroops.org/k9s.htm

www.mwdtsa.org  (Military Working Dog Team Support Association)

www.usmilitaryk-9fund.org

www.supportmilitaryworkingdogs.org

Even though people are saying the war is “over,” and many of our soldiers are coming home, there are still many, many soldiers, both human and canine still in harm’s way and, like my family and I, people seem to forget that fact.  So the need for donations for the soldiers still in Afghanistan is more important now than ever.

I cannot express how deeply this program affected me.  While I wish we did not have those soldiers so far from home in constant danger, I’m glad they are there and I thank them all for their undying bravery, constant service and dedication to our freedom.

glory-hounds-2x This blog is dedicated to “Zora,” US Military Working Dog and hero.

 (Photo by Tahli Kouperstein)

Dog Jobs

October 17th, 2011

“I love a dog. He does nothing for political reasons.” –Will Rogers

I am fortunate to not have to work.  My people both work long days so I can lay around at home, at the clinic, in the yard.  I even get to go on trips with them in the RV where I …lay around.  Other dogs are not so fortunate.  However, if you ask them, they would say they love their jobs and couldn’t imagine doing anything else.  I guess it’s good to have a purpose. 

We all know of assistance dogs who aid the blind and disabled.  Other dogs are trained to alert their owners of medical abnormalities.  Some can detect when a diabetic person’s blood sugar is too high or too low.  Other dogs are able to detect early-stage cancer or an imminent seizure. 

Many, many dogs were employed during the search-and-rescue activities at the World Trade Center after 9-11, the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, and the tsunami in Japan.  Most of these dogs were German Shepherds, Labradors, Belgian Malinois, and Belgian Shepherds.

Newfoundlands are famous for water-rescue missions, often jumping into freezing water from a hovering helicopter.  And let’s not forget the St. Bernards who often save stranded skiers and hikers from the snow, not to mention the brave Malamutes and Huskies who pull sleds through the freezing arctic.

You may have read of the heroic dogs that parachute – let me repeat that, the dogs parachute – with servicemen during military exercises.  One such dog was a Belgian Malinois who led the way in the bin Laden raid.  Other dogs aid the military in detecting land mines, bombs, and other explosive or chemical devices.

There are many other jobs that dogs do that no one would ever think of.  I’d like to briefly mention a few.  For example…

An English Springer Spaniel in England aids fire marshals in detecting accelerants at fire scenes to determine if arson was a cause.  Because dogs’ sniffers are about 10,000 times more sensitive than man’s, they can detect minute amounts of flammable liquids that would otherwise go undetected by any equipment available to investigators…and the results are immediate.  No waiting for lab tests and reports. 

There are Border Collies who are trained to keep birds off the runways at an airport in Johannesburg, South Africa for the safety of planes taking off and landing.  Sounds like great fun but these dogs must learn to respond to commands.  They must be guided when to chase the birds, and when to lie down and stay in place because an airplane is nearby.  Because of their athletic ability, these dogs can maintain an area as large as 30 miles. Don’t worry, they do not harm the birds.

In Australia, some dogs are able to sniff out the underground nests of the dangerous red fire-ant. Red fire-ant venom is toxic to humans and livestock.  Fortunately, dogs can access areas humans cannot and can detect small colonies and even individual ants by scent. 

A young Labrador in Malaysia has a price on his head for interrupting the CD/DVD pirating business in that country.  He is trained to sniff out certain chemicals used in the production of CDs and DVDs.  As a result, he has found and aided in confiscating millions of dollars worth of pirated media.

On an island off of Australia a clever Manchester Terrier detects poisonous cane toads by scent.  The toads come to the islands in shipping containers.  If allowed to inhabit the area, they will destroy the ecosystem.  Fortunately, the terrier can detect the odor of a toad for up to 20 meters.  Once he picks up the scent he alerts his handler of the toads’ location so they can be captured.

A Staffordshire Bull Terrier in South Africa aids in tracking cheetahs by detecting their fecal droppings.  He is an integral part of a program to help save the endangered cheetah whose numbers have declined due to human encroachment.   By analyzing the droppings, researchers can determine the animals’ species, sex, and individual identity to help estimate population size and distribution.  The dog can travel in areas too thickly vegetated for humans and can locate droppings 26 times faster.

 All of these dogs, and many more, make important contributions to mankind.

Come to think of it, I suppose I do have a job.  It is to be a companion and guardian to my people.  It may not seem as important as detecting arson or serving in the military, but I take it very seriously and am good at it. I wouldn’t trade my job for anything.  I love my job and am paid well with adoration.

For more information on working dogs and their unusual jobs try these resources:

Dogs with jobs: Working dogs Around the World by Merrily Weisbord and Kim Kachanofe, DVM

Extraordinary Dogs on National Geographic Channel or Documentary Channel (episodes also available on internet in some areas), also a book available by the same name, based on the TV series, text by Elizabeth Wilhide

 (Photos by SkyWideDesigns)